Minister Michelle Donelan made her debut appearance in front of the DCMS select committee and received a warm welcome in the form of a pleased-to-meet-you battering from the chair, Julian Knight. Perhaps he was exasperated, perhaps he’s had enough of ministers, perhaps the Audit Office report on a DCMS fiasco was the last straw. He bunched his knuckles, put out a finger and piled in.
£120 million of public money had been spent on the inexplicable and unpardonable nonsense of Unboxed, the rebranded Festival of Brexit. People remember WW1 Remembrance, he said. They remember the 2010 Olympics. They remember the Queen’s Jubilee. But Unboxed? People had barely heard of it, and its “engagement” figures were lamentable.
He very nearly asked her to apologise for it. But he had much else with which to chastise her.
The minister had gone into hedgehog mode. She was defensive. She was covering for officials. She hadn’t learned any lessons. We couldn’t afford it then and certainly couldn’t now. She wouldn’t tell us who the officials were who designed the mess of it. She implied that her critics didn’t understand what they were talking about. She hadn’t listened to the Committee who’d said all along it was going to be a disaster because it had no idea behind it.
That was certainly true. And the minister’s repeated assertion that lessons, big lessons were there to be learnt did not necessarily mean they would be learnt. The biggest lesson of all was the Millennium Dome – another national festival eviscerated by a lack of national confidence. And the very existence of Unboxed showed that lessons don’t get learnt.
She didn’t mind. Minister Donelan is not just impenetrable, she is impermeable. It all washes off her. Would she do something like Unboxed again? “I didn’t do it the first time.” That was her engaging moment, that and her attractive, reluctant smile.
She is the modern politician, fluent in the clerical Latin of the political class – unstoppable, unbeatable. The verbal material issues forth like ectoplasm.
Does it matter? She says that her department touches every part of our lives and that she is there to connect and protect us. When it comes to her Online Safety Bill she matters very much.